Trump’s ambitions for peace in Israel and Palestine are not delusional – they’re misunderstood. Nathan Kennan looks at the President Trump’s visit to Bethlehem.
President Trump’s visit to Bethlehem was always destined to be the least covered part of his foreign trip from the beginning. It is thanks to his remarks regarding the terrorist “losers” responsible for the Manchester attack, that in the end it was heavily publicized, not for anything he said directly to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Perhaps it is best that this be the case.
Indeed, Trump’s first leg in Riyadh was also focused less on solving issues inside the Middle East than it was on terror in the West (which Trump defined as pointedly stemming from within the region). It seems Trump is sharp when it comes to defining problems as they relate to the United States and the West, but not as focused when it comes to solving the intractable issues plaguing the area.
If Trump were to focus more on local problems, he might find himself very much disappointed. Indeed, media reports have identified his hope for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord as inflated and overly ambitious.
The Associated Press pointed to enthusiasm from the Israeli Prime Minister on his personal relationship with the American president, seemingly indicating that Netanyahu’s joy at Trump’s replacing Obama was equivalent to renewed hopes for peace. That would not fit with the truth from the Israeli side, however, where Netanyahu is famous at home for a premiership that has been focused almost solely on delaying the peace process to the point of extinction, while pushing the settlement cause silently at the same time.
Indeed, Abu Mazen, as Abbas is called by his constituents, is not particularly interested in peace either, it would seem. His remarks to the press alongside Trump in Bethlehem focused more on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention centers than they did on any preconditions or meetings necessary to restart talks between the two sides.
Not only is Mahmoud Abbas not popular at home, but he is widely considered to be unable to agree to nearly any peace deal with Israel. His precarious position means that he cannot agree to a deal unless it is a nearly perfect one from Palestinian’s eyes – Yasser Arafat famously rejected some 97% of the West Banjk.
The media and pundits the world over have laughed at Trump’s enthusiasm for the peace process, have criticized his one-sided partisan choice for America ambassador to Israel, and have made sure his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is aware he is unqualified for his task of forging an accord.All of the criticism has been anchored by a feeling that Trump is in over his head and completely over-enthusiastic about his prospects for being the American president to finally broker peace in the Middle East.
That has not necessarily proven to be the case thus far.
What is lost in the coverage of his seemingly innocent hopes is that Trump is always bombastic, and may not be more confident of striking a deal than any of his predecessors.
Indeed, just as President Obama famously required an anger translator (in the form of comedian Key of Key & Peele), an enthusiasm translator may be necessary when writing about Mr. Trump. If such a translation were applied in this case, it might become clear that his hopes are actually tempered, and this visit has proven that more than had been expected beforehand.
Trump spoke of the Arab-American summit in Riyadh as though it had been an achievement of monumental proportions, calling it “…an epic gathering. It was a historic event.” Does anyone really believe Trump believes this? It was a gathering some 55 leaders, which is no doubt impressive. Yet there was little progress made on anything apart from Trump’s flagship rhetorical war against Islamic terrorism, which he has soldiered on and mentioned again in Bethlehem and again in Brussels today.
Were this our first encounter with Mr. Trump, perhaps we would take Trump at his word. However, the media and the world need to accustom themselves with Trump’s style of speech and recognize that even at diplomatic events, his enthusiasm is probably not as great as his words indicate. Thus, with this new grain of salt, one can derive from his words at Bethlehem a much more toned-down rhetoric and set of expectations for his administration.
The President’s remarks were brief, and he mentioned a peace deal in virtually the same breath as he did bring about Palestinian economic prosperity. Considering it is likely he has a very shallow interest in such a result, it seems Trump’s remarks reflected the fact that though he probably would love to claim to be that great achiever of peace – he’s not about to bet his Presidency on it, either.